Open House New York: Exploring the (Nearly!) Empty Post Office Building on 8th Ave

OHNY graciously allowed me to take a few tours in advance to help spread the word. My first choice? A tour of the James A. Farley Post Office at 33rd Street & 8th Ave.
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On October 9th & 10th, over 350 sites, tours, and events will be made available to the public free for the annual Open House New York program. Open House New York is...well, an open house of New York City! A ton of fantastic options are being offered this year, and OHNY graciously allowed me to take a few tours in advance to help spread the word.

My first choice? A tour of the James A. Farley Post Office at 33rd Street & 8th Ave.

Why a post office? Because in a decade or two, this...

...will look like this:

The Farley Post Office is on track to become Moynihan Station, an extension of Penn Station, which will help alleviate a significant amount of congestion. You can see the center of the Farley building below - the roof will be removed and replaced by the atrium pictured above:

Finally, Amtrak commuters will enter New York City through a station with prestige and class, as opposed to the underground armpit that is the current Penn Station. Meanwhile, the 8th Avenue side of the Farley building will continue to operate as New York's 10001 post office.

What are they going to do with all the postal workers? In fact, about 90% of the building is already vacant. And covering an entire city block, that means a lot of interesting places for OHNY guests to tour, including empty offices, an old cafeteria, a medical wing, a police wing, and more! For those that weren't lucky enough to snag a tour this year, hopefully this post will give you a thorough look inside.

The 8th Avenue facade was built in 1912 and meant to match the grandeur of Pennsylvania Station across the street.

Lining the top of the facade is the famous quote: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." Contrary to popular belief this is not the motto of the US post office, and was actually selected by McKim, Mead & White, the architecture firm responsible for the design, from Herodotus' description of the reliable postal service messengers under Xerxes I of Persia (fun fact: it was carved by Ira Schnapp, who would later design the Action Comics logo, and many others for DC).

While I was waiting for my tour guides from the Empire State Development Corporation, I took a moment to admire the lobby.

Farley is one of New York's grandest post offices, and walking in feels like a step back in time.

Though it could use some restoration work, details of the past shine on to this day, including the intricate ceiling design work:

Anyone know why the initials R. F. are inscribed on the ceiling?

If you're ever in the lobby, be sure to check out the north and south rotundas, where a number of interesting postal artifacts are on display. For example, an Irish mailbox...

Its schedule primarily in Gaelic:

An old rural route mail delivery horse-drawn carriage...

A sweet mail courier bike from the 1920's:

And a plaque remembering the sinking of the USS Maine, actually cast from its wreckage:

I met my guides from ESDC and we headed inside the building.

I should add that the Empire State Development Corp. is very film friendly, and would be happy to consider any proposals for shoots on the property. If you like something you see in my pictures, shoot me an email and I'll direct you to the reps in charge.

As we headed deeper through long hallways and winding staircases, I began to pick up on the many little details amassed during the building's near-century long existence. The LOOK sign has a 70's feel, no?

Most of the windowed still have hand-stenciled lettering:.

Our first stop was an old sorting area in the center of the building, which will one day become the new Moynihan Terminal. A sky‐lit train hall on the scale of Grand Central Terminal will be built overhead. Train tracks already run below the building (mail was once delivered here by traincar), and phase 1 of the project is about to officially start, consisting of critically important transportation infrastructure improvements.

We then headed up a flight into what used to be a cafeteria. This area would have been filled with tables...

Remnants of a white-tiled kitchen:

As we walked deeper into the building, I began to get a sense of just how enormous - and empty - it really is.

I have to be honest, looking at the Farley Building from the street, the last thing I'd ever imagine inside are dark, empty hallways and crumbling rooms.

There are a lot of fantastic filming spaces inside. I love the arched window in this former office area:

We crossed the floor, heading through another office wing...

A VIP office? Everything reminded me of Mad Men...

Across more empty office space...

We then found ourselves in a hallway stretching the length of the building and overlooking the main post office area below.

This floor was once home to the Postal Police!

Though you'd never expect them to need it, this area used to be a jail cell for the Postal Police's use:

You can still see marks from the bars in the floor:

We continued into the old Postal Police offices...

This was the main hallway for the police wing:

One of the neat things about the offices in this wing... that they're all connected! Literally, a path through all 10 or 12 offices:

An old safe in the Police wing...

The safe is as old as the building:

Inside the safe:


There are a ton of different office styles. From the white drywall and linoleum floors of this room...

...we turned a corner and found ourselves in office straight out of a 1970's cop show:

These wood-paneled offices are also part of the former police wing...

Many still have their wooden radiator covers:

Right out of Serpico:

These offices are interconnected in the same way as the first:

Another window:

Many of the bathrooms are pretty old, with white tiles, porcelain sinks...

...and marble stalls:

Two important signs still up over the sinks:


Up another flight of colorfully painted stairs...

This sign gives you a sense of how crowded the place once was during full operation.

At its peak, the building housed over 4,000 employees, and a medical wing was essential. I love this old hand-painted sign:

We headed through a pair of double-doors into the old medical wing...

On one door:

And the other:

The first room has an old nurse's office...

The sign:

Inside, a really interesting device by one window:

Recognize this?

Ha, don't feel bad if you didn't:

An Electrepel Electronic Bird Repeller! I would really, really like to know if they scared the birds away by zapping them:

A tile bathroom:

An old key cabinet...

...with keys to the supply room, x-ray room...and another key cabinet!

Beds were set up in a nearby room, and workers were encouraged to take rests rather than go home:

Very pretty to this day, despite some decay:

Another bathroom...

I love the old soap holder:

Medical Officer door stencil:

We walked down a few more hallways, coming to the post office's photography department.

The dark room:

Another York Safe:

We passed through another office room. If only these were what passed for cubicles today...

Another large sorting room:

A couple of inner offices:

Time card holders still on the walls:

We then entered a waiting area...

The windows still have their gold-stenciling:

I love the glow through the frosted windows from behind:

I didn't see any articles loose in the mails, unfortunately:

In the waiting room, I noticed two signs from times past. First, a shelter area sign:

Then, a light switch sticker that feels very 70's(80's?)-ish to me.

Another hallway with stenciled doors...

Several with gorgeous wooden doorways...

Finally, we entered one of the largest areas in the building: an enormous sorting complex that covered an entire corner of the building:

Absolutely huge, and with high ceilings and a number of freight elevators that open directly onto it, this could be an excellent place to build small sets for film productions:

I really love the overhead offices:

I also love this sign - is this a motto? Productivity, Productivity, Productivity, Service!

We headed down one last flight of stairs, passing this warning...

...And my favorite sign in the whole building:

Our last stop was the basement. The tracks run one floor below:

Again, lots of space, and all of it completely vacant:

I was told this device once played a roll in shooting mail from all over the building to train cars below:

I headed out through the glass-covered loading dock...

...which is also available for shoots:

And back onto the street!

Until this tour, I had no idea just how enormous the Farley building is, and its near total vacancy just makes it feel all the more vast. OHNY guests are in for a fun tour this weekend, and hopefully millions of New Yorkers will one day enjoy it as an extension of Penn Station. Special thanks again to the Empire State Development Corporation for my tour!

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